Nearly 16 months after the death of Trayvon Martin, opening statements in the racially-charged trial of George Zimmerman begin on Monday as the testimony gets underway in earnest in determining the fate of the man accused of second-degree murder of the 17-year-old student.
The opening arguments come after Judge Debra S. Nelson ruled late Friday that prosecution experts who contend that Martin was heard screaming on recordings of 911 calls moments before he was shot will be banned from testifying.
The Florida judge ruled that the science used by Alan R. Reich and Tom Owen to analyze a recording of a fight between Zimmerman and Trayvon did not meet the state’s legal standards.
Nevertheless, her ruling does not prevent the recordings of the calls from being played at the trial. The prosecution had hoped that the experts would be able to provide their testimony since it would be a crucial piece of evidence in determining what happened on that night in February 2012. And the expert testimony would place Zimmerman in the role of the aggressor.
The case has attracted international attention because of it touches on themes ranging from race and racial profiling to gun laws. If convicted, Zimmerman could face life in prison.
Meanwhile, the parents of the teenage Martin said that they are hoping that justice will prevail and that the important elements of the trial are underway at last. Speaking in a press conference at the courthouse in Sanford, Florida, the parents — Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin — appeared with their lawyer, Benjamin Crump.
“I am here today as Trayvon Martin's mother,” Fulton said. “I will be attending this court to try to get justice for my son. I ask you to pray for me and for my family because I don’t want any other mother to have to go through the experience I am going through now."
Crump addressed the trial directly.
“A murder trial is an emotional matter, but we understand that the jury has to do their duty,” Crump said. “We need this jury to hear the overwhelming evidence of what happened that night and base their decision on the facts — not on biases, not on prejudice, not on emotion, but on the facts.”
Crump said that there were two important facts in the case: “Number 1, George Zimmerman was a grown man with a gun and number two Trayvon Martin was a minor with no blood on his hands." Literally none of George Zimmerman’s DNA was found on Trayvon’s hands or underneath his nails.
Martin and Fulton were accompanied by several ministers from Sanford and Miami.
Zimmerman has maintained that he shot the unarmed teenager in self-defense after being attacked by Martin in a gated community in Sanford, a suburb of Orlando. The prosecution has presented Zimmerman, a onetime neighborhood watch volunteer, as racially profiling the unarmed teenager.
So far, the trial, which is in its third week, has focused almost exclusively on jury selection. In the end, a panel of six women was selected, five of them white and one of Hispanic origin. The judge ruled that the jury would be sequestered for the duration of the trial, which she also said would likely last for a total of four weeks after the opening statements.
Lawyers said that the elimination of the testimony by the prosecution’s audio experts would likely shorten the trial by as much as a week.
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(Photo: Gary W. Green-Pool/Getty Images)